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Dr Peter Brennan

Dr Peter Brennan

Dr Peter Brennan
M.A.(Cantab.), Ph.D.(Cantab.)


Area of research

Pheromones and olfactory Learning

Office D3a
Biomedical Sciences Building,
University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 331 2305
+44 (0) 117 331 2241


Humans take their sense of smell for granted, but it is the major sensory system for most animals. There has recently been a molecular genetics-led revolution in our understanding of this previously neglected sense. Now a major focus of research effort is devoted to understanding the processing of odour information and the role of learning in odour perception. In particular, recent findings have shed light on the diversity of specialised chemosensory subsystems that mediate innate behavioural and physiological responses to pheromones.

My group's research is focused on investigating the neural basis of learning in the olfactory bulb, at the first stage of olfactory processing of odour information. We are particularly interested in the neural basis of mate recognition in mice, which is one of the few mammalian examples in which learning at the behavioural level can be explained by changes at synapses between identified neurons in the brain. Previous work has shown that memory formation depends on the association of chemosensory input to the vomeronasal system and the high levels of noradrenaline that occur in the olfactory bulb at mating. These are associated with dramatic changes in the functioning of the accessory olfactory neural network that selectively gates transmission of the learned information. Current work is aimed at understanding the receptor mechanisms by which noradrenaline imprints the neural system and how changes in feedback inhibition shape synchronized oscillatory activity of the accessory olfactory bulb mitral cells to gate sensory transmission to central brain areas, such as the medial amygdala and hypothalamus.

Activities / Findings

  • Peptides bound by major histocompatibility complex class I proteins can convey strain identity in mice.
  • Mating-induced learning of chemosensory cues gates the transmission of information in the vomeronasal system. Read more >


  • 3rd year Physiology elements: sensational neuroscience; brains and behaviour.
  • 2nd year Physiology lectures: olfaction; pheromones.
  • 2nd year Veterinary Physiology lectures and practicals: Male reproduction; central nervous system; pheromones; avian physiology; physiology of reptiles and fish.


  • Vomeronasal
  • pheromones
  • olfactory bulb
  • amygdala
  • major histocompatibility complex

Processes and functions

  • Memory
  • individual recognition
  • reproductive behaviour


  • Single and multiple unit electrophysiology
  • intracerebral drug infusion
  • immunohistochemistry
  • PCR
  • video analysis of behaviour


Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Dr Ashok Hedge - Wake Forest University - USA
  • Prof Tom Boehm - Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology - Freiburg - Germany
  • Dr Matthieu Keller - CNRS - Dijon - France

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